India look to plug defensive loopholes ahead of World Cup

Pic credit: Hockey India TwitterIndian women last week learnt a lesson in attacking hockey when they played against the Belgians. Playing back-to-back Pro League matches in Antwerp, the Savita Punia-led side put on a fighting show but lost the first game 1-2. In the next match though, they were completely outplayed as the Belgians earned a 5-0 win. It could have been more but luckily it wasn’t.

Naturally with just four official matches left ahead of World Cup, the defence is a huge concern for the team. Skipper Savita admitted during a virtual press conference on Thursday that they need to work on their defensive abilities in the upcoming matches. Keeping the goals aside, Belgium also made 22 circle penetrations, 16 shots on goal and won five penalty corners in the second game.

“There are lot of rooms for improvement in defence. Whenever the ball is in our half, we need to be more alert and stay patient. Umpires make decisions very quickly and at times we take referrals in a hurry. We also need to work on that,” said Savita.

Good thing for India, they will be facing world No. 1 Argentina in a double header over the weekend in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and will get a chance to see where they stand after undergoing a couple of training sessions following the double header against Belgium. Argentina women are not only the top-ranked team in the world, but they have already won the Pro League title this season with matches to spare.

Moreover, they have been unbeaten throughout the tournament and have among them one of the best strikers in the world – María José Granatto. Speaking on how India will be defending against the Argentines, vice-captain Deep Grace Ekka said, “The striker has very good 3D skills and speed. She runs from one corner to the other and is always very dangerous. But we have trained to make sure she isn’t able to that.”

Besides defence, the team is also looking at improving their showing as far as PCs are concerned and they have been having numerous conversations regarding the same. In the two matches against Belgium, India won a total of only four PCs and failed to convert either of them.

“We have three very good drag-flickers, and we spend a lot of time practising PCs. We did well from PCs during the Olympics, but the finishing hasn’t been great recently. However, the team has worked on earning and converting PCs over the two practice sessions and hopefully we will do well in the upcoming matches,” said the skipper.

Even if things don’t fall in place during the matches against Argentina, India will have another chance to fix the issues as they will be facing off against the US during the next weekend. Hopefully, the team will be at its best by then because after that, it will be World Cup.